Being a shy child isn’t easy – and for many parents, neither is raising one. You want your child to be happy and make friends, and when you see her hang back, your tendency is to push her into social situations. But pushing won’t give her the skills to control her shyness, according to Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., director of The Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University Southeast.
“Adults think that being outgoing should be naturally occurring, but this is not something you grow out of,” says Dr. Carducci, who has also written The Shyness Breakthrough: A Stress-Free Plan to Help Your Shy Child Warm Up, Open Up, and Join the Fun.
Here are Dr. Carducci’s tips for teaching your child to overcome insecurity and succeed in social situations.
1. Love your child for who she is, not who you want her to be.
A child who undergoes social pressure doesn’t need the added stress of feeling like a disappointment. “You don’t want her to think that because she’s a little different you don’t like her,” says Dr. Carducci.
2. Show up early and give your child a chance to warm up.
Be one of the first ones at the party so your child can acclimate slowly as guests arrive. Allow her to just sit back and observe – even if it’s uncomfortable for you. While you’re waiting, prepare her for action by helping her think of ways to approach the other kids.
3. Help build your child’s confidence one step at a time.
Invite a school friend over to your home – a comfortable environment. Next time, take them to the park or invite a third child over. The key is to build on your child’s success by introducing new social elements one by one.
4. Remind your child of past strategies and successes.
Before your child enters a social situation, look for similarities to situations he’s faced before. Remind him how he handled things that time, and show him how this upcoming encounter is not an entirely new situation.
5. Use family time to discuss and practice social skills at home.
Over dinner, talk about what your child can expect from a certain social experience in advance. Do play-date post-mortems to remind your child of her strengths and problem-solving techniques. Be sure to include her in conversation and save adult-only discussions for later.
6. Give your child a diversity of social experience.
Bring him to different public places – the supermarket, library, post office – where he can engage with other people. Have him hand over the cash or the library card. Ask him to give the mail to the postal worker instead of dropping it in the box.
7. Be involved in the lives of others where sharing occurs.
Join a volunteer project and bring your shy child with you. That way she can see people with common goals and values working together. Help out an elderly neighbor together so your child participates in acts of kindness.
8. Be social too.
“Let your child see you be outgoing – talking to people, inviting people over,” says Dr. Carducci. Just like reading in front of children helps them become readers, socializing in front of a shy child helps her overcome her insecurities and learn the social skills she needs.